Pranab Mukherjee became the third President to reject the provisions in the Gujarat Terror Bill or Gujarat Control of Terrorism and Organised Crime Act (GCTOC) and ask for a clarification seeking additional information on provisions that are not in sync with the special provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 2004.
The contentious Bill was first introduced by then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in 2003 and according to a report in The Indian Express the Gujarat government still has the controversial provisions which had led to the rejection of the bill by two Presidents earlier.
The Gujarat government introduced the Bill with the same clauses, including increasing the period to file chargesheet from 90 to 180 days, and laying down strict conditions for bail to be given to the accused. President APJ Abdul Kalam rejected the bill in 2004, demanding that the clause relating to interception of communication —related to telephone interception and confessions made before police officers being considered as evidence in court — be removed. The NDA was in power at the time.
The state Assembly passed the Bill again twice after that, each time under Modi as CM. In 2008, it was without the clause objected to by Kalam. But President Pratibha Patil also refused to clear the Bill, seeking more changes, including deletion of the provision allowing confessions before a police officer as evidence in court.
It was UPA government at the Centre then. The Gujarat government, however, ignored Patil’s suggestions and cleared the Bill for the third time in 2009. This Bill is still pending clearance by the President.
The bill was first introduced by the Gujarat government in April 2003 and ever since has been awaiting President's nod. The Gujarat Legislative Assembly passed the contentious bill in March 2015.
So what are the controversial provisions that the GCTOC bill has?
- It allows a confession to be recorded before a police official of Superintendent of Police rank to be admissible in the trial against the accused or any of the other accused in a case
- It allows evidence collected through the "interception of wire, electronic or oral communication” admissible in the court against accused
- It allows for the period of investigation to be extended to 180 days so that the police have more time to keep an accused in custody
- It provides immunity to the state government officials so that no suit or prosecution can be initiated against it for anything which is done in "good faith"
- It prevents an accused from getting bail while in custody
The bill, in its present avatar has been criticised for being politically motivated. Political parties, other than the BJP, have cried foul saying it subverts freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. Shankersinh Vaghela in April 2015 had criticised the Bill and said that it was “not for protection of the people but for the protection of the BJP”.
The BJP, on the other hand, has been trying to hard sell the bill. It said that passing the bill will be taking the right step towards fighting terrorism and organised crime.
Other laws, that the GCTOC is basing itself on, are hardly similar and Gujarat in its hurried wisdom is trying to bring in blind laws to contain organised crime. For example, MCOCA which was enacted by the Maharashtra government in 1999, too has similar provisions. The Act allows confessions before senior police officers as admissible in the court of law. The Karnataka Control of Organised Crimes Act, which came into effect in January 2002, authorises investing officers to go about arresting suspects without warrants.
However, there are differences between MCOCA and GCTOC and they are crucial. An earlier story on Firstpost points out, "The MCOCA allows for the court to grant bail as long as the accused wasn't on bail in any other case, while the GUJTOC seems to draw its inspiration from the now repealed Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) which didn't allow for an accused to be granted bail if a public prosecutor were to oppose it."
Writing for DailyO, Pawan Khera says, "While tyrannical acts like Pota and Tada have been repealed amidst fears of abuse and constitutional violation, GCTOC is a Pandora's box of unfair propositions that pretends to hard sell the threat of terror cells and criminal syndicates."
Under GCTOC, both investigation and prosecution end up becoming a tool to prove a theory instead of looking for the truth.